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Legislative committee sends bill outlawing phone use while driving to South Dakota House

PIERRE, S.D. — A bill that would ban cellphone use while driving is on its way to the House after passing a legislative committee vote on Tuesday, Feb. 5.

The House Transportation committee on Tuesday voted 12-1 to pass House Bill 1088, which would make using a cellphone while driving a Class 2 misdemeanor offense.

HB 1088 is more comprehensive in scope than South Dakota’s current law, which is only against texting while driving. HB 1088 would outlaw other phone use while driving, like taking photos or using social media.

There are some exceptions carved out in the bill, including using GPS navigation or initiating or ending a phone call.

Under current law, texting while driving is a secondary offense, meaning a driver needs to be guilty of another traffic violation in order to be pulled over. At that point, police could add a texting-while-driving charge in addition to the driver’s primary traffic offense.

The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Doug Barthel, R-Sioux Falls, brushed off concerns that a misdemeanor charge is too harsh, saying the offense would be comparable in severity to failing to stop at a stop sign.

Under current law, he said a driver can be fined about $100 for texting while driving. If HB 1088 passes, he said that fine would increase by less than $25.

The bill does not allow police officers to seize suspected drivers’ phones in order to look at records. To concerns that the bill isn’t easily enforceable, Barthel said he suspects drivers would likely admit when they are pulled over that they were using their phones while driving.

Lobbyists representing several insurance agencies, such as AAA and State Farm, voiced support for the bill, saying it would help curb road accidents in the state and lessen property damage.

The bill now moves on to the House floor for a vote.